Report: San Diego Economy Taking $1B Hit From Low Safety Net Enrollment
Our top story in midday edition the County of San Diego took a lot of criticism of figures ago for the low sign-up rate for food stamp recipients and other state and federal assistance programs. The County took highly publicized steps to streamline the sign-up procedures and increased outreach for eligible low income San Diego's. Was enough? That according to the Center on policy initiatives research group which says a County is still leaving hundreds of millions of federal and state assistance dollars on the table. Joining me is Peter Brownell.. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Has cynical improved it sign-up rates after all that criticism by disco? Yes. I do want to acknowledge that the county has improved the rate. I think what we are tried to point out is that those improvements have been modest. They are still -- there in the context of also improvement across the state. So really what that left us with this a situation where according to California food policy advocates San Diego still ranks 44th at of all 58 counties in terms of enrolling eligible people and food stamps. That still -- the estimate is still that we are enrolling less than half of the eligible people in the program. How much GSA San Diego is losing because so many people have not signed up for help? Between the three programs CalFresh, CalWORKS, and Medi-Cal health ventures program we estimate that $714 million in indirect benefits of being lost. Then those dollars obviously would go into the pockets of struggling Sunday go families who have needs and would spend those. So based on that we are estimating that that spending would generate 900 finally dollars in total regional economic activity. Generate 6450 jobs and raise for put $7 million and local sales taxes every year. To be clear where does the money for program like CalFresh and CalWORKS and the other programs they were talking about what is I come from? That is where the key points. For CalFresh that's money that comes from the federal government from the USDA. Over 99% of that money comes for the benefits themselves from the federal government the remainder comes in the state. The county has some share of administering the program. The actual benefit dollars come entirely from the federal government and the state. The situation is similar for CalWORKS and the state -- the county pays slightly larger share like essentially for each additional person above what we are enrolling now for CalWORKS. The county share is to have percent. -- To an have percent. If we were thinking about economic development in another framework we would be overjoyed to get this kind of in fusion of dollars into the region from other areas. What are the reasons we focus on tourism because that is hoping a dollars to the region. That is what we need to grow our regional economy is money that is not just coming from within the region but money that is coming from outside the region. These programs -- the county is responsible for administering them, but the funds for the benefits and for a major share of the administration of the program as well comes on the federal government or state government. Joining us now is sending a city councilman David Alvarez. He joined a group yesterday to call for full enrollment and assistance -- in assistance programs. Welcome to the show. Thank you, Maureen. What is your understanding about why people are not enrolled in these programs? I think you just need to talk to individuals that go through the process of enrolling. We had a good example yesterday when the report was released. Young lady who had attended to go through the whole process and how difficult it has become. Beyond that what's really alarming is the percentage of people participating in these programs. Less than half of those that were eligible to receive help for food are doing so today. That is really really alarming. We know that people are struggling in San Diego. We see things like homeless rate population increase. I'm not saying that it's directly related to people not having food, but we know that when people are struggling to make ends meet every little bit helps to not go homeless and not have to go through that situation. We've got so much work that this county can be doing to keep families in their home and to keep them well-nourished and healthy and be productive members of our society. Besides the possibility of a few extra dollars being the difference between someone being able to stay in their home and not. What are the other impacts on your constituents of this low enrollment in federal programs? When you have a family that is struggling, they have to have two jobs and you worry about some issues. I'm trying to build parks and keep our libraries open longer and are recreation centers longer. That is to provide young people in particular an opportunity to thrive and be successful. That is why we do that. When you have people working multiple jobs, the quality of life suffers. People don't have such a good opportunity to do well in school and to graduate from high school. This is all interconnected. We need a provide stability for families which is what these programs do in order for them to be successful. David Alvarez, that announcement yesterday the coalition of groups that came together to make this announcement called on the county supervisors to take steps to increase enrollment. Have you heard anything from the county about that right No, we have not. Peter mentioned that there was a very modest increase in enrollment from the last time the report came out. This is really a call for people to get to work. Clearly 50% of the failure rate. This has been a complete failure. Do we need to do more? As Peter mentioned, this is money that is to coming from the federal government. This is not -- we are paying taxes. Taxpayers are paying taxes to the federal right to provide these services. The county is not using it. I think everybody would be upset if they were to find out that the government was not taken advantage of those dollars that the government is making available to them. I know I would be if we were not using our money on community develop in other types of funding that comes from the federal government. We use all that. The county should be doing the same. Is there anything that the city council could do that help people access these funds? I think that is one thing that we are going to be looking at. One level of government isn't doing their obligations I think we need to be responsible. We need to step in as much as possible. The call is for the Board of Supervisors to do their job. That is what they get elected to do. This is the responsibility. Etc. passing of the both. It is directly the responsibility. To the extent that they need help from the city, we will be right there to help them reach higher goals of enrollment in all these programs. David Alvarez, Agee so much. Thank you. He's research director with the Center on policy initiatives. And doing this research, Peter, did you hear any reasons why it appears to be difficult for eligible low income San Diego's this axis is programs? The focus of the report was to revisit the numbers after the report and research by the actions that are found such comparatively low rates back in 2010 and 2011. Our main focus was to take a picture of the numbers. We did hear from one recipient or on some of the problems that people face although that wasn't the focus of our report. Yesterday she reported problems in terms of Samiti paperwork that was required of her and having a paperwork get lost. Therefore, having to come down to wait for hours to resubmit the paperwork. Sometimes not. By the end of those hours, meaning all the requirements that the eligibility office required of her. It is a process where I know in the past that was one of the things that was identified with documents and -- I think that continues to be -- I know the county has taken some steps. I have not seen specific some of the rates of say lost application documents, but what we heard from the recipient that was at a press conference yesterday that continues to be a problem. I remember when we started to talk about the Spidey is ago when the initial numbers came out about how low the enrollment in these programs were here in San Diego. There was a lot of conversation about an ideological impediment among the county supervisors to really get on this and to provide access to all of the people who might be eligible for these assistance programs because the idea of needing assistance programs was not universally enthusiastically accepted on that board. Obviously I can't get into the head of the supervisors so I can't speak to their motivations or lack there of. I do think that we've got -- even if where try to be fiscally responsible here, it seems to me that the supervisors are being a pretty smart and a pound foolish and letting the state and federal dollar slip away that could grow our economy. I think it's a board that has prided itself on its fiscal responsibility. Here's a case where maybe not spending enough is actually really hurting the big picture in terms of our finances. As you are compiling these numbers and joined his coalition asking the Sandeno county supervisors to take steps to increase enrollment, are there any other steps that it could take? The focus on a report was not so much on understanding the processes and the specific failures as to just start off and start a conversation around just the results. I think that is the next step is to really have another process where the county really looks up at and the committee groups that are interested in this issue are involved. The bottom line is it is a counties entities that have the resources and information about what is happening on the ground. Certainly, they need the feedback of recipient and people's experience with the program or go I think that is what we would like to see is the county put up the resources to study this and to provide information in terms of their processes. I think they have to take the responsibility, but I think that should be a process that engages with the community groups that came together to make this all. You are the numbers people on this. Let me ask you one more time about what those numbers are cool how much did you find you say that the Sandeno counties leaving on the table by not enrolling everyone who is eligible in these federal and state assistance programs. What we are living on the table in terms of direct benefits that would come from the state and federal government to recipients is $714 million annually. The spending of those benefits in our region would generate a total of about $905 million annually and regional economic activity, which would create an additional 6004 and 50 jobs and raise an additional port -- public $7 million in sales taxes. We will see work goes from there. Thank you so much, Peter. Research director with the Center on policy initiative. Think you so much. Thank you.
A new report says San Diego County enrollment rates in the federal and state safety net programs CalFresh, CalWORKs and Medi‐Cal remain among the lowest in the state.
According to a report by the Center on Policy Initiatives, "The Economic Costs Of San Diego County's Ongoing Safety Net Failure,” the county ranks ninth out of the 10 largest California counties for enrolling eligible residents into the CalFresh food assistance program. The nonprofit think tank focused on economic equity says only half of those eligible for food stamps receive them.
“The unclaimed food stamp benefits alone would add $426 million to our local economy and create an estimated 3,069 jobs when families spend those benefits at local stores,” said CPI Research Director Peter Brownell in a press release. “Administering these programs is a key function of county government, and San Diego County is failing its responsibility, leaving tremendous amounts of federal and state money on the table.”
San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez joined Brownell Thursday on KPBS Midday Edition to discuss the report findings.
"Fifty percent (participation) is a failure," Alvarez said. "The call is for the Board of Supervisors to do their job."
Brownell and Alvarez called the gains the county has made since the last report five years ago "modest" and urged the Board of Supervisors to prioritize outreach to help residents navigate the complicated application process for safety net programs.
Alvarez said the relief such programs provide for families struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table help stabilize households, improve children's educational outcomes and improve neighborhoods.
But both Brownell and Alvarez drove home their economic point.
"Taxpayers are paying money to the federal government for these services and the county isn't using it," Alvarez said. "I think people would be upset to learn that."
"If we were thinking about economic development in another framework, we'd be overjoyed with this infusion of dollars," Brownell added. "That's how we think about tourism – it's money coming into the region."